The Conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, like anywhere else, has gendered nature. The agents of conflict, more often than not, are men. Women are seen mostly as the passive victims of conflict. But a closer look at the way women are impacted by conflict, reflects a multidimensionality in the way women are located in it.
Patriarchy, according to Brock-Unte, is based on the force based ranking of the male half of humanity over the female half. Patriarchy has to do with power over people, mostly power to control woman and nature. Though conflict has got a patriarchal nature it has also got the ability to transform the same. Conflict often brings about an experience of empowerment to women. Actually in violent conflict, men fight, pick up the arms and are at war, so kill or get killed. They die fighting, get killed in cross fire or simply disappear but whatever happens, women related to them are left to bear the results as they run the households single-handedly, raise their children, take care of elderly, do house chores but also are compelled to work outside the homes to ensure the survival of themselves, their families and the community. All this brings women to a situation wherein they have to make use of their disempowered positions to negotiate with significant others (officials or militants), their womanhood to move them to compassion, their invisibility to move around and paving the way for their activism. So what happens is that fine line between the public and private spheres melts away and the disempowered regime of women draws some power inside.
Hence the passivity of women in peace times that gets transformed into activity in conflict times manifests in different ways and in support or in opposition to different parties. Women may support the ’cause’ and get involved in its various activities or they may turn their backs to it and de-legitimise the whole context of the conflict.
But support or no support women suffer the most in conflict. Women become the soft targets for both state agents as well as the militants. They are harassed, molested, raped by security people as they are seen embodying community’s identity and the community is insulted via women and by militants when they are seen as threats to the movement as they are suspected of being informers to security personnel. There is an increasing trend of women being killed in violence as with activism women’s vulnerability to violence has also increased. In addition to this, women suffer when males of the family- husbands or sons die or simply disappear. Women- mothers, widows or half-widows are left for grieving and for carrying the family’s responsibility and they are made to leave the safe environment of the home, often for the first time, to ensure the survival of all left.
In conflict, women’s traditional sphere expands to include activities normally ascribed to men and to include extended versions of prescribed activities of women. In the process the pressure on women increases manifold which is complimented by the disruption of the social structure and economy as earning in peace time and conflict time can not be equated.
Conflict leaves impact on women in a manner which is unique to the women. Women’s earlier subjection to societal norms and rules and to oppression gives them rare insights into the oppressions, violence and unequal relations in conflict situations. So, what women have to say regarding conflict and peace can be incorporated into an all new concept of conflict transformation. But such a possibility is ignored which again is a gendered response in this world of men where any deliberations towards resolution of conflict find women uninviting.
Not only the formal organs of decision making have refused to take women into their fold but an instrumental relationship has always been forged by the activists when they make use of incidences of rape or injustice to women for propagating the feeling of hatred and alienation towards state and hence make use of a tragic and traumatic experience of women for legitimizing their actions while doing nothing to address the sufferings of women. Remedies are sought for women’s problems by confining them to homes and by veiling them and at the same time leaving them without any support in case their men have died or disappeared.
The situation of women in conflict is hence paradoxical. Conflict victimizes the women as well as strengthens them, shakes patriarchy as well as reinforces genderhood, tries to veil the women as well as makes them to work and raise the family, brings them into centre stage of the conflict as well as ignores them in formal procedures of its resolution.
Like elsewhere, women in Jammu and Kashmir experience conflict in a complex and even contradictory manner. Conflict has enhanced the feeling of powerlessness of women here when a number of them have been left as destitute widows or half-widows, or have been raped, or subjected to various kinds of violence. Yet, at the same time, conflict has also seen the empowered women – women demonstrating on the streets, women resisting the imposition of moral codes, women refusing to support the violence even if in the name of ’cause’ when it starts victimizing its own people. Women are also agents of violence as well as of peace.